Two-time Survivor contestant Michael Skupin was sentenced Tuesday morning in Michigan to one to four years in prison for child pornography and larceny, PEOPLE confirms.
Skupin, 54, bowed his head and blinked back tears as Judge Kelley Kostin handed down the sentence in the Oakland County Courthouse near Detroit.
“I think he is a threat,” the prosecutor said in court before the sentencing. “We are asking for the maximum sentence.”
In addition to the prison time, Kostin ordered that Skupin serve four years of probation on the theft charge. He has also been ordered to pay $31,800 in restitution, plus several thousands in court costs.
Skupin had pleaded not guilty to 11 charges of child pornography and racketeering stemming from an investigation by the Michigan attorney general. He was convicted in November on four counts of child pornography. He also pleaded no contest to one count of larceny by conversion.
“The children in these videos and images were exploited, and each time the images were shared and viewed continued their suffering,” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said following the conviction. “My hope is that today’s conviction will bring some closure to the families and the children that are victims in this case.”
Prosecutors have said the investigation into Skupin began when a woman alleged on the local news that she was a victim of a gifting scheme. She said that she invested in Skupin’s Pay It Forward, in which her donations cycled through a chart of investors, until she was paid by new investors’ money. Other alleged victims came forward, claiming they had also paid cash into the program.
During law enforcement’s investigation into Skupin, they said they discovered child pornography on his computer.
In court on Tuesday, Skupin begged for mercy and reiterated his claims of innocence before the sentence was handed down, saying that imprisonment would cause undue hardship on his children and stepchildren.
“I maintain that I didn’t do it,” he said. “That’s all I maintain. There were hundreds of people who had access to my computer. I have 11 children who I’m raising, and I have about $1000 a month in child support. there’s so much fallout that would result in me going away.”
‘I’m Sorry If I Did Anything Wrong’
On the night before his sentencing, Skupin provided an exclusive statement to PEOPLE in which he maintained he was not guilty. Here is the statement in its entirety:
I’m sorry if I did anything wrong, I really thought I was helping people through a business I took over called Pay It Forward.
I took the plea on that charge because I had lost faith in our justice system. I lost that faith when a jury of strangers said “probably” and found me guilty of possession of child porn. I did not look at or download anything on my computer that could have been considered anything even close to child porn.
Keep in mind, my conviction was based on temporary internet files created by my computer, the internet. The computer forensics expert for the state admitted that this was on every computer in America and you don’t even know it’s there. I got scared and took a plea, paid a bulk of restitution by selling my remaining possessions.
I maintain my innocence — I will continue this fight for as long as I breathe for all the people that are feel that they have to take pleas out of fear and who’s lives are forever altered by a system where sensationalized and untruthful media plays too big of a role which creates bias unfair judgements and allows for people to consider personal gains instead of justice. The camera is rolling; what can you get from it?
This world can be hateful, unkind, and the media can be outright cruel and dishonest. The masses judge and relish in the sensationalism — and the very few give truth and love.
No matter what happens, I’m choosing to remain kind. I’m choosing forgiveness. I’m choosing love.
Skupin appeared on Survivor: The Australian Outback, where he became the first person to be medically evacuated from the reality show after he fell into a fire. He also competed in Survivor: Philippines.
He tells PEOPLE that he plans to appeal his conviction.